Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY
STARTLING research today reveals children are still breathing in harmful particles in cigarette smoke in a car even when adults aren't smoking.
A Welsh study reveals high levels of particulate matter (PM) from tobacco smoke is present in the back seat of cars for up to two hours after a cigarette has been smoked.
Smoking with the car windows open did little to lessen levels of the potentially harmful material.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health's findings have been seized on by campaigners fighting for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
The British Lung Foundation believes Wales should follow Canada's lead and introduce a ban, while Dr Tony Jewell, Wales' chief medical officer, wants to start a national debate about the idea.
Elaine Clark, an environmental health practitioner, who carried out the study, said: "I'd say this research presents a compelling case for not smoking in cars, especially for those people who have children."
The research involved a mother and two grandparents who are smokers and who carry children in their cars.
All of them said they wouldn't smoke while their children were in the car but they would light up when they weren't present or before picking them up.
The study found that PM levels peaked at 1,600 micrograms per cubic metre while a cigarette was being smoked. But 61 minutes later, the level was still 200.
Another measurement revealed a peak of 1,400 when a cigarette was smoked and levels of around 100 micrograms per cubic metre 82 minutes later.
The research measured levels of PM2.5, the size of particles which can be taken into the lung - each particle is equivalent in size to 1/30th of the diameter of a human hair.
The US Environmental Protection Agency regards exposure to PM levels of 40 over a 24-hour period as unhealthy and levels of more than 250 to be hazardous to health.
Mrs Clark added: "I thought this would be the case but I was surprised by the results - I didn't think PM levels would be maintained for such a long time in the car."
Julie Barratt, director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in Wales, said: "The chief medical officer wants to start a debate about smoking in cars and if we're going to do that, we need to base it on facts and not emotions. …